Networking without Apple

29 Oct 2023 - Johannes Ebeling - 4 minutes to read

About a year ago, I took advantage of a fantastic deal on Amazon and purchased a new router. I had been planning to revamp my home network for some time. Our Wi-Fi speed and coverage were never satisfactory, and there were several dead spots throughout our apartment.

Up until that point, we had been using an AirPort Extreme A1521, the last model Apple produced in the Extreme line. Overall, I was quite happy with it. It was a well-equipped router with Gigabit LAN/WAN and the ability to attach a hard drive. It also had an aesthetically pleasing design that I didn’t mind displaying in the open. One of the most appealing features of Apple AirPort, as well as AirPort Time Capsule, was the ability to use them as targets for Time Machine backups without needing a separate Mac or an external drive. At the peak of my Apple networking journey, my home network consisted of at least one AirPort Extreme and multiple AirPort Express acting as repeaters and AirPlay targets for speakers throughout my apartment. This setup allowed me to run Time Machine backups for both my private and work MacBook, as well as stream media to my Apple TV using the same hard drive.

However, as time went on, these devices grew old, and there were no replacements in sight. The software started to deteriorate slowly but surely. The AirPort configuration tool looked outdated on modern operating systems, as it hadn’t received updates in a long time. I experienced multiple network crashes, and Time Machine backups would unexpectedly stop without any notification. The once reliable disk-sharing feature became buggy, and copying files to or from the attached hard drive would sometimes fail altogether.

Thus, I began searching for a replacement. I ultimately settled on the Linksys Hydra Pro 6E, a Wi-Fi 6E capable router. At the time of purchase, these routers were still relatively rare, and the Linksys Hydra Pro 6E was one of the few tri-band capable options, meaning it supported broadcasting the same SSID using the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands simultaneously. This was important because most smart home devices prefer the 2.4GHz band, and it would have been inconvenient to have them on a separate SSID.

Ever since I set up the Hydra Pro 6E router, my apartment has been free from any Wi-Fi issues. It provides me with the full bandwidth of my fiber internet connection throughout my entire living space. Surprisingly, even during work calls, my connection remains stable and strong, outperforming my colleagues who work in an office where networking is managed by knowledgeable professionals.

However, it’s important to note that it is immidiately apparent that this router is not manufactured by Apple. Sadly, Apple no longer makes routers at all. The Hydra Pro 6E may not have the aggressive or “gamer” aesthetic that most other routers seem to go for, but it certainly doesn’t look as sleek as an AirPort. The Linksys Velop system is certainly visually more appealing, but it was three times more expensive than the Hydra at the time of purchase, and I don’t really need the three access points that it comes with.

There are also some opportunities that Apple may have missed by not having a product in this category anymore. This became especially apparent when my partner and I were getting things ready to move out of our apartment and had to store some of our belongings. As we couldn’t take our TV with us, I decided to sell it. After selling it, I dismantled our media cabinet, which involved unplugging all the different devices, including the Apple TV. Later that evening, I realized that I couldn’t access our Homekit lights. It didn’t occur to me initially, but as our Apple TV also served as the Home Hub, I couldn’t store it away yet if I wanted to control our lights until the day of our move. Consequently, the Apple TV had to be placed in the network closet with only its power cable attached. If Apple had a modern router, it would likely function as a Home Hub as well. Perhaps Matter will eventually address this issue when more devices can act as Thread border routers. Until then, one of the most crucial aspects of my home network, HomeKit, can only be accessed by keeping an Apple TV or HomePod nearby, even if they aren’t required for their primary purposes.